LOS ANGELES, Calif. – As has been the case over the past month and a half for No. 1 Stanford women’s water polo, its defense took the spotlight in a big moment. The Cardinal defense held No. 2 UCLA scoreless in the second half Sunday while the offense scored the final three goals of regulation as Stanford captured its first MPSF Championship crown since 2006 and fifth overall with a 6-5 win in Los Angeles.
Stanford (22-1) also earned the MPSF’s automatic bid into the 2014 National Collegiate Women’s Water Polo Championship, and will return to USC’s Uytengsu Aquatics Center for the event from May 9-11. The Cardinal is expected to earn the draw’s top seed when the 10-team field is announced Monday, April 28 at 5 p.m. PT on www.ncaa.com.
On the day Stanford cashed in on three 6-on-5 situations and converted a penalty, the latter coming from Maggie Steffens with 2:05 remaining in the third period to knot things up at 5-5. Kelsey Suggs would net the winner on the power play with 3:55 remaining in the contest, firing past Bruins goalie Sami Hill.
The final four minutes would serve as a testament to the Cardinal defense’s resiliency. With Gabby Stone making four saves on the day in goal, the Cardinal dug in and denied the Bruins an equalizer, capped by snuffing out a UCLA 6-on-5 in the final 15 seconds.
Kelly Donohoe’s goal with 2:08 remaining in the first half put UCLA (25-4) up 5-3, but would end up being the final goal of the day for the Bruins, as the Cardinal defense held them scoreless over the final 18:08.
Annika Dries got the comeback started, battling through defenders in the hole to power home a backhand with 4:53 left in the third period. With just over two minutes to go in the frame the Cardinal drew a five-meter penalty against the Bruins, and Steffens stepped up to bury the equalizer, her second goal of the game.
As Suggs’ goal put the Cardinal ahead, the defense’s stop in the final seconds underscored a final 16 minutes in which the team killed off all three of UCLA’s power plays over the span, including one in the opening minute of the third period which kept the Cardinal within a pair of goals.
The second half’s grinding pace was in stark contrast to the opening period in which the teams scored three goals apiece. Steffens opened things up for Stanford after just 31 seconds, followed by UCLA’s Kodi Hill answering just 33 seconds later. UCLA would take the lead twice more in the frame on goals from Alys Williams and Kelly Ronimus, but Stanford had an answer each time, with Kaley Dodson and Jamie Neushul providing the replies.
UCLA – 3 2 0 0 = 5
Stanford – 3 0 2 1 = 6
Stanford Goal Scorers: Steffens 2, K. Dodson, Dries, J. Neushul, Suggs
UCLA Goal Scorers: Donohoe, Dorst, Hill, Ronimus, Williams
Goalie Saves: Stone 4 (S); Hill 10 (UCLA)